WPXI gears up for telethon; WTAE debuts new set

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In Pittsburgh, the annual Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Association Telethon is known primarily for two things: Raising money for a good cause and host Bill Cardille. But it's a fluke that led to Cardille's involvement in the telethon.

Cardille, who's been hosting local portions of the annual telecast for 37 years, recalls that his involvement came about suddenly. Channel 53 had been the Pittsburgh home of the MDA telethon in its earliest years, but in 1970 Cardille said Channel 53 went off the air due to financial problems a week before the annual telethon. Channel 11 stepped up to take over local telecast duties, and Cardille was asked to host.

"We did it on the second floor of the Hilton Downtown, and the first year we raised $70,000," Cardille said, noting they never expected to reach that number when they set out. "It was pretty successful considering all the roadblocks set in front of us. It wasn't antiseptically clean in terms of production, but I did what I wanted."

He hosted the first telethon with local radio personality Perry Marshall.

"We couldn't get a crowd, so we did a lot of talking," Cardille said. In the middle of the night on one of Cardille's early telethons, the hosts received a call from actor Frank Gorshin, who was in town in a play. "He came over and did some shtick on the air live."

This year's telethon will air on WPXI beginning at 11:35 p.m. Sunday and continuing until 6:30 p.m. Monday. Local portions will come from Monroeville Mall, as usual, with Channel 11 personalities, including Peggy Finnegan, Darieth Chisolm and Bob Bruce, hosting with Cardille. Last year's telethon raised more than $900,000 locally in pledges and donations to support MDA programs in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

(Because the telethon will pre-empt NBC programming Monday, the final round of the PGA Tour's Deutsche Bank golf tournament from Norton, Mass., will air from 2-6 p.m. on local low-power station WBGN.)

The first time Cardille met Jerry Lewis was in a New York studio. Cardille had flown in for a photo shoot with Lewis to promote the telethon and was running out of time to get to the airport for his return flight. Cardille was chatting with Lewis' children when he heard Lewis, from across the studio, say, "Hey, Chilly, don't get too excited about meeting me."

Cardille's response: "You have nothing to fear but fear itself."

"We've been good friends ever since," he said.

Cardille said he was invited to be part of the ribbon-cutting at the new WPXI facility, but he'll be on a cruise to Hawaii and Tahiti now that the opening has been rescheduled from just after Labor Day to later in September.

"I really wanted to be there since I signed on the station Sept. 1, 1957," as WIIC, Cardille said. "I loved every minute of the journey."

For many viewers, memories of Cardille inevitably turn to "Chiller Theater," the late-night monster movie show that ran on Channel 11 from 1963-83. The Web site ChillerTheaterMemories.com, created by fan John Buriak of Shaler, is dedicated to the series and features the show's history, clips and still photos.

WTAE's new set

Channel 4 will debut a sleek, high-definition-ready news set during the 5 p.m. news Tuesday. Newscasts have originated from the newsroom for the past few weeks as the set was built in the WTAE studio.

Yesterday, the station's morning news team rehearsed on the new set, which is similar to the old set in color scheme and with the weather center off to the viewer's left but is more modern, with lighter wood and a bank of 18 monitors -- covered by smoked glass with a bridge etched into the glass -- on either side of the Pittsburgh cityscape backdrop.

A large monitor hangs on the front of the anchor desk and another monitor can pop up behind the desk and between the two anchors. There now are two desks in the weather center for tag-team coverage during severe weather.

News director Bob Longo said the set, which is wider than the one it replaces, was designed with the transition to HD in mind -- no date has been set to start broadcasting the news in HD -- and bears some similarities to the set at WTAE's sister station in Boston.

The set's lighting has been programmed and adjusted for each anchor team, and Longo said monitors behind glass in the background will "make the talent stand out" more than the blue wall backgrounds of the old set.

A new set for the Sunday night sports show has also been built and a new reporter stand-up area should appeal to "Star Trek" fans.

"We try really hard not to call it the Transporter area," Longo said.

MNT premieres

My Network TV begins its second season next week on Pittsburgh's WPMY, Channel 22, taking a contrarian approach to programming. While the major networks tout their quality shows, MNT appears to be on a different playing field altogether.

Here's what you'll see beginning next week unless otherwise noted (new series in italics):


8 p.m. "Celebrity Expose": From the producers of "Access Hollywood," this series purports to delve into "the realities of celebrity life." (Oct. 1).

9 p.m. "Control Room Presents": Concert performances by contemporary stars in high-definition, including Maroon 5, John Mayer and Mandy Moore. (Oct. 1).


8 p.m. "The Academy": This series originally aired on Fox Reality Channel and follows recruits through an 18-week course at the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Training Academy.

9 p.m.: "Jail": From the producers of Fox's "Cops," this show is essentially "Cops: After the Arrest," showing what goes down in jail (e.g. newly jailed cell mates get into a scuffle).


8 p.m. "Decision House": Couples on the brink of divorce get just the push they need by living together in a house under 24-hour surveillance and counseling from the likes of Judge Lynn Toler, the star of "Divorce Court" (happy endings are not her specialty). In one case, the husband had physically abused his wife and photos of her with welts are displayed for your viewing pleasure. (Sept. 12)

9 p.m. "Meet My Folks": Not a new show, but reruns of NBC's reality series in which parents get to play matchmaker for their adult children. (Sept. 12)


8 p.m. Movie


8 p.m. Movie.


8 p.m. "IFL Battleground"

9 p.m. "NFL Network: Total Access": An original series that previews the next day's professional football games.

Channel surfing

WPXI will air a 50th anniversary special at 10 p.m. Sept. 22. Details to come. ... WQED's Rick Sebak is blogging as he films his next national special for PBS, "A Ride Along the Lincoln Highway" (wqed.org/tv/natl/lincoln_hwy/blog). ... Channel 11 will air NBC's "Fall Preview Show," hosted by "Heroes" star Greg Grunberg, at 1:30 p.m. Sept. 8. Look closely and you could see me in the background; Grunberg taped his segments in July while NBC's press tour party carried on in the background. ... If you've missed AMC's excellent period drama "Mad Men," now is the time to catch up with a seven-episode marathon beginning at 10 a.m. Sunday. ... PBS's "Nightly Business Report" will air an updated version of its classic special "How Wall Street Works" at 7 p.m. Monday on WQED. ... WBGN's "The It's Alive Show," now in its third season, will hold its second South Side Zombie Walk Sept. 13, followed by a taping of the Halloween episode at The Rex Theater ($10). Details at TheItsAliveShow.com.


This week's TV Q&A responds to questions about "Lost," "Heartland" and high-definition TV. Read it online at post-gazette.com/tv.

TV editor Rob Owen can be reached at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582.


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